God has called us into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord (cf. 1 Cor 1:9). The term “fellowship” in this case means to “share our lives in common,” to “become friends” of the most intimate sort. Though he is King and Sovereign, he dwells with the humble in heart and under new covenant provisions has taken up residence, as Paul says, in our hearts (Romans 5:5). The miracle is that he wants to know me and make himself known to me in increasingly intimate ways. The divine family has come to abide in me (John 14:23) and I am called to remain in Christ (John 15:7). I need to know him (Phil 3:10-11). I was created to love him, serve him, and above all enjoy him forever. How can we neglect “so great a salvation” (Heb 2:3)?
But there are bumps and potholes in the road and the journey is filled with pitfalls, distractions (surely the worst enemy of the committed Christian), and struggles. In the midst of the fight—and that is certainly what it is—we are really asking for two things. Owen summarizes them well:
Strength and comfort, power and peace, in our walking with God, are the things of our desires. Were any of us asked seriously, what it is that troubles us, we must refer it to one of these heads:—either we want strength or power, vigour and life, in our obedience, in our walking with God; or we want peace, comfort or consolation therein. Whatever it is that may befall a believer that doth not belong to one of these two heads, doth not deserve to be mentioned in the days of our complaints.1
In order to worship God properly we need strength and consolation in the Christian life. Strength to faithfully obey and consolation when we fail. In particular, we need strength to pray, to meditate on Scripture in Christ’s presence, and to obey what God makes known to us. We need mercy in our times of wandering from the Lord.
Paul told the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” and God told Joshua to meditate on his word day and night (1 Thess 5:17; Joshua 1:8). And this we do as well. We praise the Lord in our cars going to work and we make intercession for others as we go through our day. Some people also memorize scripture on their way to work and think about it all day long, asking God for further insight and strength to follow him. The point is that we often pray and think about scripture as we’re engaged in other activities.
But as we flow in these two important privileges (i.e., prayer and the Word) throughout the day, we run into distractions, interruptions, and other important “things” that we must respond to and give our undivided attention to. Therefore, there arises the need in the yearning soul to draw aside for regular times of uninterrupted prayer and scriptural meditation. This is what I mean by a quiet-time. It is a time set aside in a certain place where a person can “get away,” be alone, and draw near to the Lord. Thus a quiet-time involves a period of concentrated, uninterrupted fellowship with God in a place often designated beforehand. As important as prayer throughout the day is—and it is important—it comes with distractions and our heart is somewhat divided; it’s the nature of the case. Again, the discipline of having a daily quiet-time is designed to give a person undivided time with the Lord.
Before we move on, however, let me clarify one thing. This article is posted on a website which thousands and thousands of people visit each day. And we’re thankful to God for that! But this means that there will be many readers out there who come from different religious and societal backgrounds. So I need to make one thing clear right up front: having a quiet does not secure favor with God; it is the privilege and joy of a redeemed heart—a heart that has already entered into friendship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. If you have not yet repented of your sin and turned to trust in Christ for forgiveness and cleansing, I encourage to do that now. If the point of a quiet-time is fellowship with God, then let that begin now by turning to him in faith and calling on the name of the Lord! He will forgive you whatever sins you’ve committed, cleansing and strengthening you for life in communion with Him (cf. 1 John 1:9).
So then, we are not working for grace, but from grace. We’re not hoping that God will accept us; we know that he already has in Christ (1 John 5:13). What he wants with us now is a deeper friendship and intimacy.
There are as many reasons for having a consistent quiet-time as there are benefits that flow from these times of undistracted prayer and scriptural meditation. I want to subsume them, however, under three general headings. First, we seek the Lord’s presence in undistracted fellowship simply because he has called us into this friendship; the cry of the regenerate heart is to know God and enjoy him forever. Second, the Lord uses consistent quiet-times to transform us into his likeness. Third, drawing aside regularly to be with the Lord not only leads to a deeper friendship with him and to Christ-like transformation, but it also impacts our view of the world and the mission God has called us to. It is through regular fellowship with the Lord that we begin to get on our hearts what’s on his heart. It is here that we begin to develop a passion for reaching the lost and world missions. Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.
The first and ultimate reason we set aside a specific time in which to draw aside and be with the Lord is the exciting thought of deepening our friendship with him. Jesus said in John 15:14-15 that he no longer calls his disciples “slaves,” but “friends.” We are no longer in the dark as to what our Master is doing, but we have been graciously invited into the inner circle—the divine circle in this case—and privileged with the knowledge of what our Master is feeling, thinking, and doing. Though we sometimes act like it, we are not mere acquaintances, but each of us who knows Christ personally, is his friend. Everything that Jesus has heard from his Father he has willingly made known to us. To open up your heart to someone, as God has done with us, is a gesture of friendship.
I studied at Dallas Seminary for some time. During my stint there I had numerous occasions to speak with noted Bible teacher Dr. J. D. Pentecost. Anybody who knows Dr. Pentecost knows that he loves kids and loves to take them in his arms and bless them. My kids used to love to go by and see him. Indeed, his nickname, Dr. P., came from a youngster who couldn’t pronounce his last name very well and so asked if he could simply refer to him as Dr. P.
But Dr. Pentecost is also well known, not only for his love of children, but also for his contribution to discussions on Biblical prophecy. He has been speaking on the issue for “decades.” I heard the story that on one occasion he was asked to come to a rather small church and speak on the doctrine of the second coming of Christ and all its attendant details. So he decided to give five sermons on the subject, but in the middle of the conference he decided to insert a sermon on “The Loveliness of Christ.” During his sermons about the second coming and “end times,” as it is often referred to, the place was packed. Everyone showed up. But, during the one sermon about the “Loveliness of Christ” the church was only half full. Sad, isn’t it. Is not the second coming really about the coming of Jesus! Shouldn’t we be more interested in him and his “loveliness” than in a detailed chronology of events, some of which we’re not all that uncertain about?
Where are you? Is Christ a deep personal friend to you or merely an acquaintance? Would you recognize him if you bumped into him on the street (cf. Luke 24:13-27)? Do you desire his company and do you know him well or are you fiddling around in life with second and third best? Listen to God through the prophet Jeremiah: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (Jer 9:23-24). The quiet-time is a specific time in which we seek the face of the Lord, to know his friendship personally and to worship and understand him better.
The friendship into which God has called us—also referred to as fellowship (1 Cor 1:9)—came with a severe price. John says the Lord Jesus laid down his life for us: “There is no greater love than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus has left his palace, moved across town, lived in the slums, and has rescued us for himself, so that we might enjoy his presence in friendship. Surely we can set aside time to be alone with him!
In Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities there is a wonderful illustration of the extent to which Christ went to secure a friendship with us. In the story, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton are two people who become close friends. Darnay happens to be thrown into a dungeon and faces the guillotine the next morning. Carton, on the other hand, a lawyer by profession, has piddled away his life through loose living in England. Carton hears of Darnay’s predicament and through a series of circumstances gets himself into the prison and the cell where Darnay is being held. He changes garments with Darnay and the next morning faces the guillotine while his friend Carton escapes to freedom. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends!” Dickens even quotes this passage (i.e., John 15:13). So is Christ’s love for his friends!
A good and vibrant friendship is built on many necessary and beautiful virtues. One of them is willing disclosure. Another is a “willingness to risk” or courage. A third is mercy. All of them are grounded in love for another person and result in the desire to “make oneself known” and to leave the response in God’s hands. For there can be no intimate friendship without a willingness to lay one’s heart on one’s sleeve. This Jesus has done. His desire for friendship is not rooted in codependence or sinful weakness, but rather in the riches of his overabundant love and concern for us. It is also motivated in the hope of a reciprocal gesture on our part. Jesus has graciously invited each of us into his story; his friendship is life changing. This is the ultimate reason we draw aside to be with him. This is ultimately why we have a quiet-time.
I remember growing up in a fairly good neighborhood. But there were some kids on the street that my mom and dad were animate I not “hang around” with. Though I never heard them speak the words, I’m sure my parents were conscious of the proverb, “bad company corrupts good character.” In the same way, I had other friends who were “good kids”—as my parents used to say—and they encouraged me to keep up my friendships with them. These were kids with a healthy respect for others and a sense of purpose and direction in their lives. I find myself today urging the same things on my four children. There are kids I will not let them play with and there are kids I will let them play with. The bottom line is that every parent knows friendships can “make or break” a person. Why? Because friendships often involve spending protracted time together wherein values are transferred/inculcated and concomitant habits are taken on. Friendships can often play a huge role in determining a person’s outlook on life and their ability to respond to life’s challenges.
Not only do I spend time with Jesus in order to know him better, that is, to deepen the friendship and to enjoy him, but also to receive both his values and the strength it takes for living them out. It is through personal communion and friendship with the Lord, especially in quiet-time when there are no distractions, that I listen and am able to receive from him. Over the years of fellowshipping intimately with the Lord, a most unusual thing happens: I start to think and act like him, albeit imperfectly. I notice myself hating what he hates and loving what he loves. Have you noticed that? This is the heart of the new covenant ministry of the Spirit wherein he focuses our attention on Christ and in the process transforms us into our Friend’s image from one degree of glory to another. In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says: “And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
It is in fellowshipping with the Lord that we begin to really hate sin and love righteousness. It is in that time that we resolve to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God. It is there that we experience the greatest impact of his friendship on our lives. It is there that we receive mercy from the Lord for all our sin and find grace to help us in our weakness (Heb 4:16). It is there that we learn to cast all our cares, problems, anxieties, and concerns upon the one who cares for us (1 Pet 5:7). This is how Christ’s strength is conveyed directly to us. It is through prayerful meditation on scripture in his presence—with our eyes on him—that we receive mercy and grace to help us in time of need. It is in that daily time of unhindered communion that the Lord draws us a picture, as it were, of his loveliness!
A kindergarten teacher asked her students to draw a picture of whatever interested them. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed little Phillip working feverishly. She went over to the young lad and asked him what it was he was drawing. “God,” he replied, rather matter-of-factly. “Oh,” she said, “you can’t do that. Nobody knows what he looks like.” But the little, blond-haired boy looked up and with a grin said, “They will when I’m done!”
This is the point of the quiet-time, namely, to allow the Spirit of God to draw you a picture of Christ’s loveliness. Though we cannot see him, we do begin to behold his glory during prayer and meditation. It is in his presence in this way that we are convicted of our sin and shown what it means to be holy. It is here that we begin to learn what character is all about. So then, the second primary reason we draw aside to be alone with the Lord is so that we might get a clear “picture” of him in order that we might become like him. Not only do we draw aside in daily quiet-time so that we might deepen our friendship with Christ, but also so that we might allow that friendship to impact us, to change our character into his. Let me explain.
God has chosen us in eternity past and predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son (Eph 1:3-4; Rom 8:29). That’s where we’re heading. Christ-like character. He has given us several “means of grace” to accomplish this. First, of course, is the Spirit of God who unites us with Christ in his death and resurrection. The Spirit uses other “means” such as the word of God, the people of God, the sacraments prescribed by God, as well as the circumstances God ordains for our lives. All these combine in a divine mix to bring about Christlikeness in us. The end and goal of the process is realized at glorification (Rom 8:30). So then, we need to ask the question: “What is our God-given responsibility throughout this process until glorification?”
First, we must recognize that we are in a fight and that growth in Christlikeness will not come without struggle. We are in a fight for holiness against three formidable enemies: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Listen to John and Paul on the matter:
1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 2:16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world.
Galatians 5:17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.
Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.
Second, in the midst of this war (1 Peter 2:11) we are to express our trust and love for the Lord by “sowing to please the Spirit.” Again listen to Paul:
Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, 6:8 because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.
Paul said that we have these “means of grace,” supremely managed and ignited by the Spirit of holiness, so that we might cooperate with the Spirit’s work of sanctifying us. He leads, we follow (Phil 2:12-13). This involves us in the moment-by-moment, ongoing process of saying “yes” to God and “no” to sin. Daily, we say “yes” to faith and love, “yes” to truthfulness, “yes” to purity, honesty, self-control, and compassion. Daily, we say “yes” to sound doctrine, courage, conviction, and Christ-like humility. But we say “no” to slothfulness, laziness, and lying. We say “no” to deceit, sexual immorality, adultery, slander, gossip, unrighteous anger, idolatry, envy, strife, and murder. The former are consistent with our new calling and the latter are inconsistent. God loves the former and hates the latter. Therefore, let us put on the “new man” in our relationships and put off the “old man.” Let us “put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom 13:14).
Now the Spirit does a most incredible feat as we follow him in saying “yes” to righteousness and “no” to sin: he transforms our character. We begin to acquire deep seated dispositions toward righteousness and a loathing for sin. A new character is forming, one that in its weakness is actually stronger in the Lord. We become stronger through Him and less blown and tossed by every wind of doctrine and every problem that God permits to enter our airspace. Ellen Wheeler Wilcox expresses it well:
One ship sails east.
One ship sails west.
Regardless of how the winds blow.
It is the set of the sail
And not the gale
That determines the way we go.2
See, it is the “set of the sail and the not gale” that determines which way we go. This is what it means to grow up in Christ. Our character determines in large measure the fruitfulness of our lives. To be sure, none of us reaches perfection in this life and our goal is not to be rigid moralists, but to love Christ and others. Thus renewed repentance and trust is constantly required. But make no mistake about it, Christ-like character is not instantaneous, but is rather forged by the Word and Spirit, over time, through the furnace, with the help of God’s people, as we learn to say “yes” to God and “no” to our enemies.
Those who know me will have to take it by faith but I have been going to the gym for the past few months. I can scarcely think of anything more boring, but I need to do it for health reasons. Anyway, I’ve noticed—as many of you fellow “exercisers” have—that after working out for a while, our muscles begin to develop greater strength for the increased load placed upon them. In other words, I can lift more now and with greater ease than I could at first. And, in a few months I will be able to lift more than I do now. And so it is in the Christian life. Developing the Christ-like habit of saying “yes” to God—a habit nurtured in quiet-time—develops a disposition in us that enables us to withstand greater “loads” placed upon us—loads that perhaps right now we might crumble under.
The one character trait that we need along the way is perseverance and does it ever seem to be in short supply these days. There are times when we all want to quit and throw in the towel. I cannot tell you how many times I have felt that way with respect to the ministry. But when I draw aside to be with the Lord and he shines his light into my heart and sets me on my feet again, everything changes. I am reminded of the words: “consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that we will not grow weary and lost heart” (Heb 12:3). This is why God has placed us in a community, given us his word, and called us to his side through the Spirit. That is why we need to daily fellowship with him in prayer and scriptural meditation. He gives us new and fresh grace for the battle. The habit of meeting with him daily to strengthen the bond of our friendship is like daily renewing marriage vows and commitments; it reminds us to whom we belong and gives us encouragement to live faithfully in the relationship.
So we see that daily, uninterrupted communion with the Lord deepens our friendship with the Savior. We also see that it is in those times of talking alone with him that he begins to impact us in terms of a holy life. We begin to take in his values and virtues and to discard those that are not worthy of him. Thus we often leave our times of intimate fellowship with Christ and hit the day with renewed zeal to say “yes” to God and “no” to sin. Over time a character is formed in us. As the old saying goes:
Sow a thought, reap an act.
Sow an act, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.
But there is a third reason we seek to fellowship daily with the Lord in quiet-time. It is so that we can get on our hearts what is on his heart, namely, his church and the salvation of lost sinners (e.g., world missions). It is when we are with him that we are impacted by his mind on the issue. Again, there has never been a movement of God that is not in one way or another connected to prayer and the saints communing with their Lord. Remember that Jesus called the disciples to be with him so that by being with him he might make them fishers of men. In Mark 1:17, Jesus says: “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Later he chose twelve “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach…” (Mark 3:14). Notice the order: (1) they spent time with Jesus, and (2) he sent them out. The inevitable result of being with Jesus, as the pattern in the life of the disciples illustrates, is a desire and commitment to serve Him both by serving his people and by carrying the gospel to the world.
A great modern day example of this is the life of Dawson Trotman, founder of the christian organization called the Navigators. Through this one man God has touched not only my life, but also the lives of thousands of others throughout the world. But the work was born out of extended times of prayer and a daily habit of meeting with the Savior. “Daws,” as many called him, recorded these entries in his journal during 1929:
Saturday, August 24—We had a wonderful meeting at San Pedro…Afterwards Ed, Bill, Jim, Walter, and I had prayer meeting lasting until about 11 o’clock…Jim, Walt and I continued all night in prayer to God.
Sunday, August 25—At 6 a.m. we were met by five others and had a prayer meeting on the hill.
Wednesday, August 28—Had a talk with Miss Mills after prayer meeting…
Thursday, August 29—…Then a prayer meeting on the hill—alone with God.
Friday, August 30—I went to the old church around 9 o’clock p.m. and prayed until I could stay awake no longer and laid down on the floor and slept until daybreak, at what time I again poured out my heart to the Lord.
Around two years later he wrote:
Slept till 7 o’clock (shame). Because of this I must begin the day with but a few minutes of prayer. Thus is sin.
On July 18, 1931 he wrote:
Spent three or four hours (with Henry and Walt in a quiet rendezvous in the hills) with God. God has never yet failed to bless such a season to the quickening of the inward man, and striking some needed blows to the carnal man.
And then on March 17, 1931 he testifies:
While waiting upon the Lord and reading His Word, He speaks to me very definitely. I was reading II Sam. the first 7 chapters. I was strangely aware that God was nigh unto me. God was…with David for his people, Israel’s sake. II Sam. 5:10-12. David enquired [sic] many times of the Lord. I am and was then peculiarly and especially aware of mine own insufficiency and dependence upon the Lord. Chapter 7, wherein David was promised what God should verily do, burst with special significance before me. While reading the second time Hebrews 6:16-18 flashed into my mind; not knowing what it was I looked it up. I cannot explain how definitely the Lord spoke to me in view of the boys’ work in the light of America’s, yea the world’s need. O, but that through Chapter 7, also Isaiah 41:10 and Hebrews 6:16-18, Romans 4:20, 21 He did speak. I am as sure as that Carey the missionary knew. I trust God, His Word, not myself nor my feelings.3
Dawson Trotman’s experience was by no means unique; countless numbers of saints have walked this path of the quiet-time—daily investing an uninterrupted time in prayerful meditation on Scripture in God’s presence. Such notables include Moses, Joshua, David, the prophets, Jesus, the twelve, Paul, Augustine, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, Hudson Taylor, William Carey, Watchman Nee, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, and a myriad of others. We might stop and learn a lesson. It was out of their close personal communion with God that their love for him grew, their likeness to him developed, and their heart for his work blossomed. This is why we daily draw aside to seek friendship with the Lord.
In the space that remains I would like to suggest a few thoughts for developing a consistent quiet-time. As you go about this process remember that it will not be easy nor without a fight. That you can be sure of. So arm yourself. There are four things to think about. First, a consistent time. Second, a consistent place. Third, a consistent plan. Fourth, a reward.
It is important in the process of developing a regular and meaningful quiet-time, where you can be alone and away from distractions, to nail down a specific time each day. For those of you who have a set schedule every day this is usually not too difficult. I find the best time is early in the morning, before I go to work. This may work for many guys who are working outside the home. Some of you may find the evening a better time. It’s up to you; trial and error. Others of us, say, women with young children, may find it easier to sit down and pray when the children are either having a nap or, if they’re old enough, immediately after they’ve gone to school and before the day gets rolling. The important thing is that you have a block of time (15 minutes? 30 minutes? 1 hour?, etc.) set aside each day (or as often as you can) in which to draw near to the Lord. Guard this time and ask the Lord to keep it free for prayer and meditation on scripture. Obviously we are not saying that you cannot have a quiet-time at any other time, but it is important in developing a good (holy) habit to pave the way by seeking consistency.
Another important factor is a consistent place, preferably not in front of the T.V.! Again, think of a place where you will have no distractions (or at least as close to none as possible) and where you will have freedom to pray out loud. Again, we can have a quiet-time anywhere (e.g., on the subway travelling to work), but not if we’re being distracted constantly by various intrusions. One of the reasons Jesus went up into the hills at night to pray was because there were no crowds there and he could focus on the Father without interruption. Whatever place we decide on, it should be similarly chosen.
Once we’ve decided on the place and time, we should then set about the task of determining what portion of scripture we’ll be reading. It should be a portion long enough to provide some context to the story or teaching, but short enough so that much time can be spent in meditating on what has been read. It is here that we ask the Lord not only what the text means, but also what it now means for me. I recommend a Psalm, a paragraph or two in Paul, or an episode in the narrative literature such as the gospels or OT. You will also want to take along a pen and journal to record your thoughts and to list things to pray about. In my prayers I often use the acronym ACTS: A=adoration; C=confession; T=thanksgiving; and S=supplication.
The best way to envision your quiet-time is not as another thing to do—on top of the already overwhelming list of things to do—but as an opportunity to deepen a bond of love with the ultimate Friend. We should look forward to it like we did Christmas morning as youngsters. Remember Christmas Eve? Guests were over, mom and dad were sitting in the living room talking with friends, lights were twinkling on the tree, presents underneath, and the sound of laughter all around; excitement filled the air like a rich perfume. No kid can wait for Christmas morning. My prayer is that God would fill our hearts with that sense of excitement and expectation as we come to fellowship with him each day. Come to each quiet-time with that expectation and see if the Lord does not reward your seeking him. I leave you with a passage of scripture:
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
1 John Owen, Mortification, Banner of Truth, VI: 21.
2 As reproduced in Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1,501 Other Stories (Nashville, TN: Word, 1998), 63.
3 For this quotation and the previous material see Betty L. Skinner, Daws: The Story of Dawson Trotman Founder of the Navigators (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 50-61.